"The Suspension of Memory"
by Princess of Pain
I think there's something I've forgotten, Glitch thought.
He stopped mid-step, one foot hovering over the unbroken crust of snow, and attempted to re-think what he was doing. Well, literally, he was simply walking, but his destination was important, wasn't it? And that was to the old, pretty truck that they'd gotten outside Central City. The inside of the thing wasn't so hot--it smelled like dirty underwear and rust, and felt like rolling around the O.Z. inside of a giant wardrobe--but the outside was nice enough, with all the spangles and little mirrors.
The destination was important because (it was right on the tip of his mind) it was cold outside, colder than he normally liked, so much so that he was hiding his hands under his armpits and the tip of his nose felt like it was about to run away. He would have turned around and run right back inside the palace, just to get in from the cold, but there were the flying batty-things to worry about, and the Longcoats, and if he tried to hide in there, he'd probably just muddle everything up and get caught. So going back wasn't an option, but that wasn't the only reason why he'd chosen to go to the
Glitch looked down at his numbed hands, and saw that one hand still clutched Cain's pistol, and the other, the brim of his old hat.
"Oh!" he said, giggling a little to himself, "that's not right."
Having nowhere else to put them, he tucked the pistol (it felt like an icicle) into the pocket of his coat, and rested the hat on top of his own head. That wasn't so bad--the hat kept the snow out of his hair, and kept the zipper running across his skull from sucking up anymore cold; that was giving him a headache. Then, he turned away from the truck, and slowly re-traced his own footsteps back to where Cain had fallen. The tin man was still lying on his stomach, his prone body now nearly covered by a drift of snow.
"You should learn to keep up," Glitch said, reproach tinging his voice. True, it was his own fault for forgetting to even pick him up, but Cain should have known better than to fall unconscious around a man with only half a brain to work with, hadn't he?
Glitch knew, even now, that "tin man" was just a slang term, that it was nothing but a reference to that, that thing Cain used to wear and had in his pockets--the badge, that was it--but all the same, he might have believed it if someone had told him that the ex-policeman was actually made out of metal. He sure weighed enough for that. Glitch was no slouch when it came to lifting weights, but he struggled with picking the tin man up from the snow. Maybe it was simply that Cain was unconscious, and unable to help him out, but it was like trying to lift a whole junkyard's worth of metal. He almost dropped him back, once, but eventually, he worked it so that Cain had one leaden, limp arm slung around his shoulders, and both of his arms were forming a tight band around the blonde's wide chest.
His hands were already turning numb and dying--not only was Cain as heavy as a slag-heap, he was as cold as his six-shooter, and his clothes were still soaked, to boot.
With this accomplished, he carefully dragged Cain over to the truck, stumbling and dragging as quickly as possible. Forgetting what he was doing then would be horribly inconvenient. Also, Cain might die while he was trying to think through where he was and what he was supposed to be doing. That wasn't something he wanted, not at all. When he got to the truck, then, he shifted all of Cain's considerable weight to one arm, and reached out, unfeelingly fumbling with the door-handle until, mostly by luck, it popped open at last.
They were too wide as it was to fit through the narrow door, and so, he hooked his arms in a full nelson under Wyatt's arms, and gently, he towed the unconscious man inside.
If anything, it was colder inside the truck than it had been outside, a fact that Glitch immediately blamed on the thin cloth that served as its only real walls. It obviously wasn't built for cooler climates, an oversight that he, personally, would never have allowed, if he'd designed it (of course, he might very well have designed this particular vehicle, for all he knew). First things first: he sat Cain down on the floor. It wasn't comfortable, but it also wasn't permanent.
He looked the tin man over, his lips pursing in disapproval over the poor man's bedraggled state. Cain's face--in fact, every bit of his exposed skin--was an unsettling white, with two exceptions. His cheeks were rouged an agonizing red, and his lips were bruised with blue. Water from the frozen lake was still dripping from his clothes and puddling on the floor, but much of it had frozen entirely--there were crystals of ice frosting over his hair and his eyebrows, and his clothes were mostly stiff and frozen.
"That can't be good," he muttered to himself. The specter of knowledge rose up in his mostly-empty head, whispering to him a word that he both recognized and found unfamiliar: hypothermia. After thinking it over for a minute, he thought he remembered what that was, and once that happened, he had no troubles in figuring out what to do. That word meant that Cain was too cold, and getting colder, and that if he didn't get warm and dry, he was going to die. Anything that was too chill or too damp, quite simply, had to go.
Glitch took off the cowboy hat (it was a bit large for his head, anyhow), and slipped the pistol out of his jacket pocket (he didn't trust it not to go off), and set both of these on the floor next to Cain. He likewise knelt down beside the tin man, blew heat on his own fingers until he could feel them again, and hefted Wyatt up until he was in a slouched, but sitting, position. That made it a bit easier.
The jacket went first; it peeled easily off of the blonde's body, and landed with a wet slap against the floorboards. That particular garment was too heavy--it had soaked up more water, and was taking the longest to freeze. His shirt was hard to take off, with how strangely stiff and wet it was at the same time. Glitch had to try and lift up Cain's arms and ease it upwards, as the torso of the man's shirt would not shift or budge. When that got tangled so that it wouldn't move, he made a grumbling, confused sound, and tried to yank it off entirely.
A spatter of ice broke off from the cloth and scattered like diamonds across the floor; he heard the crunching noise they made, and the rasp of ice and cloth up against leather.
"Whoopsie," he said to himself, and carefully worked off Cain's vest and old gun-holster before trying to get off his shirt. That certainly made a difference! Now his shirt came off easily, although the sight of him made Glitch wince--his skin was roughly the same color as the weather outside, stippled with small beads of water and flakes of unmelted ice. That made him worry, and the worry made him hurry: first the belt-buckle, and then the belt slid off, crackling and brittle. Then (pausing to blow on his fingers again) he laid Cain back against the damp floorboards, and started to carefully work open his
"--freezing!" he said, then blinked. What had he been doing again?
Glitch looked round, trying to reorient himself to this new world. He was back in that truck, the one Cain'd gotten from what's-his-name. Breathing in here was like being stabbed in the lungs with an icicle; his breath smoked before his very eyes. His poor head ached, from all of the cold that the zipper was absorbing and transmitting through his skin.
He looked to his feet. Cain was lying on the ground, in a puddle of rime, and he was as naked as the southern wastelands. He had about as much color to him as a snowman.
"Oh!" Glitch exclaimed, feeling both embarrassed for the unconscious man, and guilty for having ever looked. He tried to cover his eyes, and found that he was burying his face in a towel.
Wait. Towels were for drying off, and--ah, so that's what he'd been doing. That wasn't a bad idea, if he said so himself. Now feeling both guiltless and comfortable, Glitch sat back down beside the tin man, and worked on drying off his white, lax body. Touching him was frightening--he was bloodless, as cold as a winter morning--but a thought zoomed through Glitch's mostly-empty head: He's not dead until he's warm and dead. Not sure what to do with that information yet, he simply accepted it, and worked on rolling Cain over in order to towel off his back.
Once Cain was dried to his satisfaction, he nodded. "Can't have you rusting," he said to the tin man, who, of course, said nothing.
Glitch shifted a bit, getting to his feet, then leaned down and hooked his hands under Cain's arms once more. He dragged his limp body across the floor (and it was lucky for Cain that the truck was old, and the floor was smooth from years' worth of shoes and feet wearing it down, or else that might have hurt), leaned him up against the short wall, and, without thinking, pulled open one of the many cabinets that were stacked and hidden around in this place. Good guess: there was bedding in there, lots of it, and down in the bottom, he could see thick yellow foam--some kind of padding, hopefully.
How had he known about it? He was in the middle of pulling out a couple of blankets and pillows when he recalled the blanket he'd draped around himself, back when he'd been hiding back here with Raw, before the Mobats and the palace. Had he opened this before? Oh, did it even matter?
He created a quick dervish of bed-things--snapping sheets and blankets loose, unfolding the thing at the bottom (yes, a mattress of sorts) onto the floor, dumping a pillow with a pretty pattern on its slip down on the mattress. When that was done, he immediately reached for Cain, and, after a bit of strain and tugging, finally maneuvered the poor, shuddering tin man onto his makeshift bed.
Glitch did not know if Cain's unconscious shivering was good or bad, but he was grateful for some sign that his corpse-like friend was actually alive. Now heartened, he pulled up all the bed-clothes he'd gathered around Wyatt's bare frame, tucking them in underneath his heavy body. He thought about wrapping a blanket around the man's head, too, but dead as he was, he might have suffocated. This would do.
He stood up, smiling proudly at how well he'd done. There! All dried and taken care of--and even after Cain had called him a convict (which, he was fairly sure, he was not), he was still willing and able to help. It wasn't that hard, after all.
Glitch sat down beside Cain's bed, and tried to warm himself up a little--cupping his hands first over his nose, then his ears, then his zipper, then slapping at his own chest and thighs. It took him a few minutes before he got the now-familiar and frequent feeling that he might have forgotten something.
"Oh, what now?" he said, feeling mildly chagrined with himself. It wasn't anything major--Cain was still there, still breathing and sleeping away. And it had nothing to do with the palace; he knew, with what little brain he had, that going back there alone was monstrous idiocy. It was something wet, wasn't it?
He looked back around himself, and saw the towel lying in a bundle on the floor. Next to that was the large, wet outline of Cain's body that had been left behind, and the ex-policeman's hat and six-shooter--and next to that--
"I should hang those up," Glitch said, rising once more (how his legs were aching!) and shuffling over to where the tin man's clothes lay in a sopping, icy pile. It was lucky that the people who lived in this truck had almost everything a home required stashed in the back, here, wasn't it? It didn't take him long before he found a wire and clips from which to hang Cain's clothes, and he only got muddled when, for a moment, he couldn't figure out if the clips were for the clothes, or for going on the tips of all of his fingers. He seemed to recall that, when he'd been much younger, he'd done both.
When he undid Wyatt's vest to hang it up, he heard something clatter out of its breast pocket and onto the floor. He ignored this at first, until he got the thing pinned up, and saw the large, gaping hole in its pocket. He poked one of his fingers through this hole, which was--in spite of having been dragged through chilly water and snow--still slightly smudged with black.
"Gunpowder," he said, and looked down at the floor. Lying there was a little toy horse, its shoulders distended with the force of the bullet now lodged there. He should have been dismayed at this evidence that Cain had been shot, but instead, he smiled: the tin man had made it through alive, hadn't he? That was what counted. He picked up the little horse, and for the moment, tucked it into his pocket.
His task done (and his hands newly numbed), he immediately returned to the blonde's bedside. Poor man! He looked so cold. Glitch wondered, briefly, who he was, and how he'd gotten into such a pathetic state. He reached out for him, and touched the man's blue-tinted lips--then, he recalled who they belonged to, and jerked his hand back. A hard tin man like him might bite, even if he was unconscious.
Glitch sat, wriggling in place, trying to keep his own blood flowing through his veins before it grew thick and froze. His breath was a thin cloud that steamed up in his eyes, momentarily obscuring, then revealing his sleeping ward. The longer he watched, though, the more nothing happened: he had hoped for Cain to become suddenly flush with color, for his eyes to open, and for him to properly thank Glitch for having taken such good care of him. Yet he lay there, stiff and chill and unmoving, his own breath as thin and weak as frost on a warm day. His color wasn't getting any better--in fact, to his horror, Wyatt's lips seemed like they were getting bluer by the minute, and he couldn't tell if they were bluer, or seemed darker in comparison to how white the rest of him was.
Had he forgotten something else? Was there some step he'd missed? He rocked in place, his arms buried inside his own ragged jacket, and tried so hard to think. Cain was dry. He was out of those wet, frozen clothes, and those clothes were drip-drying quite nicely on the line. He was all tucked in to a bed. Glitch would have tried to fix him something warm to drink and heat up his insides, but he was still unconscious, so he couldn't drink anything at all, could he? But he was still cold. What was he missing?
He struggled through his own cold-doped thoughts, and, for the first time in a long time, he felt real anger at himself over his shortcomings. He must not forget too much, or lose track of too many thoughts, or Cain would die, and that wasn't something you could just get back up from; there had been, once, maybe, but in the O.Z. he knew, tin men who rusted solid stayed that way until the end of time. He was no magic Queen (and why did he think of that, anyhow?). If Wyatt died on him, it was for real, and he was never, ever going to forgive himself for it. Cain didn't like him very much, but that didn't change the fact that they were friends.
He cupped his hands over his aching head, his fingers pulling at a few tendrils of curled hair, until it came to him. Cain was still cold because he'd started out cold, and his body couldn't keep warm when it was so chilled, could it? He thought he remembered learning about this when it came to machines--that, when the gears were too cold to properly work, it sometimes took warming them by hand in order to get them back to right.
All right. He could do that.
Glitch shifted, first shrugging off his frayed jacket, then kicking off his shoes. He started to shiver immediately once he was parted from his jacket, but it was big and clumsy, and his legs would get all tangled in it when he laid down. Besides, the sudden cold shifting against his skin was a wonderful incentive to crawl into the bed beside Cain.
"Ah!" he cried, once he got under the blankets, and moved to lie next to the ex-policeman. An iceberg would be warmer to the touch. No wonder his lips were still so dismayingly blue! Glitch felt sorry for Cain--it was unfair, that he had to rely on someone with only half a brain for his survival. Who could get warm like that, anyhow?
At first, he simply lay at Cain's side--he wasn't entirely sure how close he could get before he might accidentally jostle the tin man awake, and he might end up getting slapped or punched for his pains. But that didn't do very well. The poor man was still cold, and did not feel even a touch warmer after a minute or two. So, taking a breath (as one might before diving into a freezing-cold lake), Glitch rolled over. He gasped--lying flush against Cain was like pressing himself against a sheet of ice. How anyone could be that cold, and still be breathing, Glitch could not imagine.
Beneath him, he felt Wyatt shudder, and murmur something under his breath--then, he lay still.
At first, things did not improve. Cain was still cold, and he didn't look any better at all. Glitch wrinkled his brow, trying to think of whether or not there was something better he could do. And, as sometimes happened, he was lucky: the ghost of some old thing he'd known rose up once more in his half-a-mind, and told him that his clothes were hindering, not helping. They were trapping all his heat against his own body, and keeping it from reaching Wyatt's.
Though it made him quaver even harder (like some helpless scarecrow shivering in a strong wind, unable to ever pull itself free and hide from the storm), he slipped out from under the blankets, and stood up. He pulled off his own shirt, then undid the buttons on his pants, and stepped out of them. He stood naked for a few seconds, unable to remember why in the Outer Zone he'd ever be silly enough to take off his clothes in this weather; he even reached down to pull his pants back up, before he saw Cain lying there in the bed.
"Oh, that's why," he said, laughing to himself, and, kicking his clothes to the side, he climbed back in, curling up against the frozen tin man.
Glitch was not, under the best of circumstances, very good at keeping track of something like time. Usually, he only lost a few seconds in an hour--everything would skip ahead, and often, he wasn't even aware of it. He'd find himself trying to finish a sentence, only to be told that he was repeating himself; or, he'd redo the same motions a few times in a row, unable to tell which one was the first time he'd done it. It was hard enough when he was concentrating on thinking straight, but when he started growing comfortable, it was impossible. And although Cain was as cold as the air inside a tomb, he was also amiable to lie against, and the blankets, at least, were warming.
After he waited to see if Wyatt would awaken from the pressure, Glitch lowered his head, resting it on the tin man's bare chest (careful not to press too hard against the enormous, horse-shaped bruise on his skin that was evidence of how he'd survived being shot). He could hear the slow, sludgy beat of Cain's heart against his ear; this close to him, he could even smell the tang of gunpowder and metal that clung to Cain's skin. It wasn't bad, not bad at all--in fact, it was warming to him, despite the weather, and he started losing time, a bit by a bit.
Every time he blinked, it seemed, something was different: the light in the room faded more and more, or Cain grew more human and more heated against his body. Once, he came back to himself when he'd stood up from the bed, and felt the hard slap of cold against his bare body. He'd gasped, almost shrieked, and hurriedly burrowed back under the covers. When he was crooked up against Cain once more, he sighed with relief, feeling nothing but heat and comfort.
Flying bat-monkeys couldn't touch him here. DG, wherever she was, was going to get out of it just fine (and probably better than if she had some half-brained fellow with her). Raw was going to be well, too--what other conclusion could there be, in a world where he could close his eyes and feel nothing but the tin man's hard frame against his own, smell nothing but gunmetal and black powder, hear nothing but the whistle of the wind outside the tent, flapping at the canvas walls, and the sound of Cain's life coming back, stronger with every beat of his heart and breath that he took?
Glitch was startled by that placidness being disturbed--he could feel Wyatt's body suddenly lurch up against his own, then shudder. He looked worriedly up at Cain's face, and saw that it was twisted in sleep; his eyes were still closed, but his lips were moving, forming words that Glitch could only guess at. Nightmaring. That was sad. He wished there was something he could to, some switch that he could flick, which would turn off whatever pictures were being shown in Cain's head.
It was uncanny, that he'd ended up traveling with so many dreamers. He hadn't had a dream since he'd lost his brain, not really. He sure hadn't had one of those vivid things that DG reported, or that Cain seemed to be having, even as he watched. The closest he ever got to dreaming didn't have pictures at all: there was only a voice that he sometimes heard, and it did nothing but recite numbers. Ninety-nine, ninety-eight, ninety-seven, all the way to one and back again. Silly thing to dream about.
He shut his eyes, and
Glitch could not tell if what happened next was one of his little lapses, or if, in his relaxation and hope, he'd simply fallen asleep. All he knew was that, one moment, he was lying companionably on top of a twitching, but still soundly sleeping Cain--and, the next, he was almost mid-air, being thrown back from the tin man's thrashing, kicking body.
"Get off me!" Wyatt roared--Glitch was still sitting with his legs straddled over the other man's hips. He could feel his entire face, from hairline to jawline, turn a bright, flaming red. Was Cain thinking that--
"I can't stand it! It's too hot!"
"No, you're fine," Glitch said, without thinking. It was one of those moments where he knew that he knew something, only he didn't quite know what it was, yet. He'd learned to trust that feeling, and let it lead him along until he figured out what he knew already. All he did know for certain was that Cain must not be allowed to get out of bed, not for some time--his lips were no longer blue, but his body was still distressingly pale.
"Let me up! I'm burning up--you're going to kill me!" Wyatt didn't seem to know who he was talking to, or where he even was; his wide blue eyes were blank and confused. Glitch's heart ached. He knew what that felt like, and wouldn't have wished it on Azkadellia (well, maybe her).
The tin man flailed against him, and if he weren't still on the edge of illness, he might have coldcocked Glitch and succeeded in getting out of the bed. Instead, his weak fists slapped uselessly against Glitch's chest and stomach. After a moment, Glitch caught Cain's wrists in his hands.
"You need to lie back down," he said slowly. And, bam! just like that, he thought he could recall why Cain staying in the bed was so important. "You nearly froze. You only think you're warmer because you're starting to get blood back into your skin, but your core might not be much hotter. Just rest. You'll get used to it."
Wyatt stared up at him. Then, his gaze wandered--drifting across the ceiling, snapping back to Glitch, looking to his own hands, then to the wall, then back at Glitch. Any faster, and his eyes would spin right out of their sockets. He looked so lost. "I'm burning up. You don't understand. Let me get up, I need to cool down."
"No," Glitch said, gentle and forceful. He pressed down on Wyatt's wrists, until--after a bit of resistance--the tin man lowered them back to the padding he lay on. At the same moment, his eyes rolled back in his head, and his eyelids fluttered closed once more. Out of it again. Good; that meant he wasn't fighting to get up anymore.
After watching him, and making sure that he wasn't going to try to rise up again, Glitch lay back down against him. It was a great deal harder this time around than it had been at first, although his friend wasn't nearly as cold as before, and a healthy blush was finally creeping into the stark whiteness of Cain's skin. He wasn't entirely sure on what this problem was, and as with all his troubles, he did his very best to think on it, and try to divine an answer from what few synapses he had left to him.
He was fine until the fit that Cain had thrown. What had changed? Well, for starters, Wyatt was no longer thrashing against him, nor was he yelling about being too hot for his comfort. He also wasn't in the middle of a nightmare. And he was surely nicer to lie against, now--his limbs were warming, enough so that Glitch could feel something other than radiating chill against his bare skin. He could feel all of the lines and planes of the ex-policeman's torso as they pressed up against his own, then abated with every breath he took. He could appreciate that, even after all that time (how long had it been, again?) in the iron suit, Cain was still carved like a man who was used to fighting every day of his life. And when he turned his head against Wyatt's chest, he could feel life and heat under his lips, and not just (fifteen years, hadn't it been?) chilliness.
Glitch felt a fervid fist clench down at the pit of his stomach. And, like magic, he realized why he was so uncomfortable with lying this close to Cain.
At first, he was dismayed with himself: he had entirely forgotten about that side of his life (at least, he had forgotten for the moment), and of all of the people in the O.Z. for him to feel anything but friendly, it had to be Wyatt--who had made the fact that he didn't like or trust Glitch very much entirely clear, and who had likewise spoken of his wife and son. He was not angry at either one of them; he didn't know their names, or who they were, and it would be horrible to hate someone he hadn't even met (or had he? He could never tell anymore). But they did tell all the story he needed to know about what Cain would think if he knew what Glitch wanted, didn't they?
The answer was simple: do and say nothing.
He sighed, and turned to rest his cheek against Wyatt's broad chest. He shut his eyes. And he found another lucky thing about only having half a brain: it was very easy to stop thinking.
Glitch woke up some time later. He did not know when; time was meaningless for him when there were no watches or suns to direct him. He unwillingly sat up (it was so warm where he was) and looked around. Where was he, again? Had he ended up in some weird hotel? It smelled like dirty laundry and old machinery in here. Maybe he'd fallen asleep in the back of one of the machine-shops--but that would not explain why he could not feel a stitch of clothing on his body, or why he was spooned up against someone else.
He looked down at himself, and peered at the person he was sleeping against. Good gods, he had no idea who this man was! Had he done something as foolish as leap into bed with some stranger? Had he ever really been smart, or was that just a dream he'd thought he had?
Glitch jolted, and jumped straight out of the bed, leaving the stranger behind in a flurry of blankets and sheets. "I'm sorry, but who are you?" he said--or tried to say; he was immediately overwhelmed with the biting-cold night air, and his words were diced between his chattering teeth. He clapped his spindly arms around his body, and tried to think, but it was far too cold for
"Oh!" he said, laughing at himself. "Sorry about that, Cain."
The tin man, as per usual, said nothing. Still sound asleep, with no clue about how lucky he was to be alive. That wasn't so bad, though. It was better to be warm, sleeping, and unknowing than it was to be dead.
Glitch climbed back into the bed, burying himself beneath the covers, seeking out the warmth that he'd helped to create. There was much to do--he needed to look for Raw, and that, that girl with the funny name, and get them back from Azka-D if it was possible. DG, that was it, how'd he ever forget that? But he could not do it on his own. He could look for them, and he would try his best, but that was going to be a task for when the suns came up. As it was, if he went out alone right then, he would get lost (he was always so horrible with directions), and meet the fate he'd tried to save Cain from.
It would have to wait until the morning. He only hoped that it wouldn't be too
"My, this is comfortable," he said, relaxing against Wyatt and into the padding. His half-a-mind unburdened and happy, he drifted off to sleep once more.